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Taliesin was renowned in the Middle Ages as the ultimate bard; a man who through his words could bring alive the deeds of his patrons and through his personal magic could travel through time and space.

But the reality of being a bard was a far cry from the Taliesin persona.  Bards were highly regarded among the Celts, Britons among them.  Kings respected them and often gave them food, shelter, silver, and horses in return for their stories and any personal praise a bard might be able to arrange into poetry.  This may have been partially because of the magic believed to be in a bard’s words; the intricate internal rhymes of bardic poetry that is extant must have been awe-inspiring.

But then the poet moved on.  He might go to the next king, but more likely he would entertain in villages or the homes of the more wealthy – hospitallers, smiths, or craftsmen.  He would hope for lesser rewards than he earned from kings, but for enough money to get him to the next village.

Which serves as a good indicator of cultural values among the Celts.  In the Arthurian period, before Christianity took hold but after the massacre of the druids in the first century, a bard was generally the best educated person to be found.  Beginning in his early childhood he was taught the mythology, legends, and history of his people (though those separate disciplines were left undifferentiated).  He was shown the standard motifs and techniques of the storyteller and made to employ them in forming praise poetry.  A bard was expected to be able to create in moments, so they likely worked with time limits.  Then he was sent out on his way to ply his craft and learn by traveling and being exposed to a wide variety of audiences and tastes.  To compare the process to something more salient, bards were apprenticed or brought to schools, and once they had learned the fundamentals of their craft they were sent out into the world as journeymen.  Only the best and the most fortunate would ever become masters themselves.

What a bard was normally hoping for was to be invited into a permanent position with a court by attaining a high enough level in his craft that he impressed a king or an unben, vassal.  He would be put on retainer and be on call at all times with stories, praise poems, and even to shed light on certain points of honor and morality.  He would also be responsible for creating and keeping the history of the kingdom as well as the pedigree of the king (often the same thing).  The life of a bard was a hard one but meant a barrage of experiences gained in years of travel.  It might end in an anonymous death in the middle of the woods, or to a soft life in the luxury of a hall.

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